Physician Burnout—Over 54% of physicians experience it. In fact, the WHO now officially recognizes work “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon. The syndrome is included in the agency’s handbook of medical diagnoses, which guides health professionals around the world.
Symptoms of burnout include: feelings of exhaustion, cynicism about one’s job, and difficulty doing the job successfully. Burnout is defined as a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a standardized instrument with 22 questions, usually measures burnout.
Physician burnout has consequences for our patients, physicians and the health care system. Physician burnout has been linked toincreased medical errors, lower patient satisfaction scores, and increased malpractice risk. Studies show that $4.6 billion in costs and reduced clinical hours are related to physician turnover annually in the United States. At an organizational level, this translates to approximately $7600 per employed physician each year.
A recent study shows that physician compensation is not related to our burnout, but instead the issue of RESPECT.
That is feeling valued, being treated with respect and being a part of supportive work environment is important to prevent physician burnout. In academia, greater physician satisfaction with work is linked to the quality of care delivered, faculty retention and patient satisfaction. Work environments and toxic cultures that promote gender discrimination are obviously associated with decreased physician satisfaction and higher risk of burnout.
With the changing culture of medicine, physicians are losing more and more autonomy. How many physicians feel that their concerns and expertise are not listened to in meetings? The physicians are usually the people who have been with their respective organizations longer than most administrators, yet many times, our voices are not acknowledged at the table, thereby impacting the health care system and patient care. Who else is best equipped to know about aspects of health care than us, the physician?
Unfortunately, hospital leadership is rarely comprised of physicians, but by those who have backgrounds in administration, business or nursing. In 1935, out of 6500 hospitals, over 2300 of the hospitals were led by physicians. Fast forward to 2008, where less than 3% of over 5000 hospitals are led by physician CEOs. And only 10% of physicians comprise senior leadership.
With the ballooning costs of healthcare related to increased administrative salaries coupled with decreasing physician autonomy, the issue of burnout in our profession will unlikely be addressed with real-world solutions anytime soon. In order to get back control, as physicians, we need to start taking leadership positions while giving adequate time for physicians to train to become physician leaders. It is only then, we will see positive change in the US healthcare system.